Meghalaya’s vaccination drive hit by hesitancy hurdle
The progress of vaccination drive in Meghalaya has been tardy with the state ranked 31st out of the 37 states and UTs as per the Union health ministry’s data. Local officials have cited vaccine hesitancy as one of the biggest hurdles.
Close to 14.6 % or 469,938 Meghalaya residents have received at least one shot of the vaccine, well below the national average of 16.2 % and the state is ranked only above West Bengal, Tamil Nadu, Jharkhand, Assam, Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, which is at the bottom of the pile with only 9% vaccinations done, Central government data revealed on Thursday. Lakshadweep tops the chart with 62.9% of the population vaccinated.
As of 9 pm on Friday, only 74,988 residents had received two shots, adding to 149,976 doses out of the total 577,546 administered in Meghalaya so far. The state has a population of about 3.22 million.
East Khasi Hills district is the worst affected with a total of 24,711 positive cases including 586 deaths and 1,583 active cases registered so far.
Government officials have identified vaccine hesitancy, particularly among the elderly, as the main reason for the slow pace of vaccination.
“Initially vaccines were available only for the age group 45 and above. Once it was opened up for the 18-44 years age group, it has picked up substantially,” chief secretary MS Rao said and added, “We are addressing vaccine hesitancy on priority through extensive awareness programmes by addressing various misconceptions about vaccination.”
District administrations have come up with innovative initiatives to draw people to vaccination centres including conduct of Raffle Draws (a kind of lottery) by the West Khasi Hills district administration, offering those getting vaccinated a chance to win ₹10,000.
Some groups like The Khasi Students’ Union have been encouraging people to get vaccinated.
“We will assist the government in this aspect and sensitise people on the basic knowledge of the vaccine but it will not be done by us… we are not medical experts so we will do so through proper medical professionals,” KSU general secretary Donald Thabah said.
He said the group will also show people photos to prove that their leaders had also got themselves vaccinated. “We need the vaccine, but not by coercion, force or threats, it should be totally voluntary,” Thabah added.
Meghalaya principal secretary of health & family welfare department Sampath Kumar introducing any new interventions require “behavioural changes”, which happens gradually when residents are mobilised and made to see the results for greater acceptance among the communities.
He added that indigenous population tends to honour popular beliefs within their communities and have a strong sense of freedom, which makes it important that the communities are taken into confidence to implement any new intervention. Initially, they were hesitant due to fear and misconceptions fed by lack of credible information on vaccination outcome.
“However, after we presented the data that out of 345 deaths in EKH district, 319 were not vaccinated and 26 had only taken a single dose of the vaccine, the uptake of vaccines among people shot up to 5 times more than in the previous weeks,” a happy sounding Kumar said
“Our community Covid management committees, along with active cooperation from headmen, religious and community leaders, have helped increase vaccination coverage drastically,” he added.
He pointed out that Meghalaya was earlier ranked at the bottom for full immunization coverage for children programme till the year 2019. “However, in a span of only 6 months during 2020, the whole state was mobilised and the state now ranks 2nd alongside Kerala, only after Telangana,” Kumar said.
Meghalaya has received 613,490 free Covid vaccine doses from the Centre since January while procuring 108,850 doses of Covishield from the Serum Institute of India, at its own cost.
Meanwhile, in a related development, 38-year old Donlad Shylla, who made disparaging and sexist remarks on Facebook against district magistrate Isawanda Laloo over her appeals to people to get vaccinated, was arrested early Sunday morning by the special cell of East Khasi Hills police.
“He will be produced in court and further investigation is being made to ensure that the case reaches its logical conclusion,” said Silvester Nongtnger, East Khasi Hills superintendent of police